Travel for longer and for less!
Every year I take a 15 hour flight from Australia to America, and every year I get my flight for free (well, I pay a few hundred for the taxes!). I learnt from a young age (cheers bro), that collecting airline or frequent flyer points really does pay. It pays for things I love, like travel!
With just a bit of financial organisation and change to a few of your spending habits, you can rack up enough airline points for a free long-haul flight; several domestic flights; business upgrades or enough cases of wine to throw a party! I’m going to show you how to travel the world for free using points.
Before you go signing up to every airline’s frequent flyer membership or multiple airline credit cards, it’s worth noting that this will only work for you if you are good with money. By good I mean:
- Pay your bills on time
- Have a decent credit rating
- Pay attention to detail like any monthly spend criteria etc.
- Know a good deal when you see one and when to walk away (points collecting can be addictive)
- Be good at tracking your debts and credit card balances so you don’t get into trouble!
So here’s how you can travel the world for free using points:
What are you travel goals?
Firstly, let’s figure out where you want to go in the next year or two? Do you frequently travel to the same countries or cities? If you travel for business, do you always stay in the same hotels? You want to identify patterns in your travel history and future travel plans. This will help reveal opportunities to acquire points at little or no effort, just by being organised in how and who you book with.
So you’ve figured out where you want to go or what routes you are likely to travel in the next 12 months. Next step is to sign up to the airline reward scheme of the group of airlines that service the destinations you plan to travel to. The trick is not to have multiple memberships with different airlines, but to aggregate ALL your travel with one group of airlines. The airline industry has partnered to share flight routes as well as rewards schemes, making it easy to keep all your points under one account but giving you the flexibility to earn points with more than one company.
Identify the group of airlines that will best serve your travel plans then sign up to the ONE airline in that group, that you will use the most. For example, I live in Australia but travel to Alaska to snowboard once a year and to the UK to visit family. I’m signed up to the One World Alliance group of airlines but through Qantas, as this is the one airline that I will use most. I fly with Qantas to America and then fly with their partner airline Alaskan Airlines up to AK. Keeping my flights all in the family ensures I receive points for ALL my flights (though slightly less points on Alaskan Airlines than I do on Qantas due to signup being direct with Qantas). If I fly back to the UK, I’ll fly Qantas and then One World Alliance partner airlines British Airways or Emirates for the second half of the trip. All these points add up, especially long haul flights.
Note that some airline frequent flyer schemes require you to fly regularly to maintain your level of membership or status. Others specify an expiry date that all accrued points must be used by. Pay attention to these details when signing up for a scheme and choose based on what will work for you.
Tip: Don’t forget domestic travel when organising your travel plans.
Kick off your frequent flyer points with with credit card sign-up promotions:
The quickest way to kick start your points collecting is to sign up to a credit card that is offering an introductory points bonus (often in the tens of thousands of points). Subject to strict terms and conditions (such as minimum spends in the first few month, maybe even a card fee), these offers are usually for new customers only so make your choice carefully as you won’t be able to get the offer again for that card company or bank e.g. American Express.
Tip: Apply for an American Express and Visa or Mastercard separately so you can benefit from two separate introductory offers. Don’t opt for an AMEX that comes with an additional Visa or Mastercard unless you know you will struggle managing two separate credit card accounts. Again, you need to be good with managing you money get the most out of airline points collecting. You can also get additional cards for a spouse and earn points on their spending.
Converting daily spending into points:
Now you’ve signed up to a credit card and received a large points bonus to your account, you can start converting daily (careful) spending into points. Pay for all your daily spending on your credit card: groceries, restaurants, petrol etc. The $1 here and there add up! Always use the card that offers the most points (AMEX usually gives the most points per $1 spend), but don’t get sucked into paying a % fee to use your card (some retailers pass the fees that American Express charge to do business, back onto you). Opt to use your points Visa card or Mastercard instead (I have both an AMEX points card and a Visa points card for daily spending. As mentioned above, I received double introductory points for applying for each card separately).
Tip: Set up a direct debit so you pay off your credit card bill each month and avoid late fees, plus damaging your credit rating. Make sure you keep track of your spending (most cards come with a easy mobile app and SMS alerts), so you don’t spend more than you have each month.
Plan for large expenses & direct debits:
If you have a large payment coming up like a car service or household item, plan to pay for this on your points credit card. As above, just make sure you are not being charged a high percentage fee to do so. It is often not worth paying the additional credit card fee just to earn the points. Same goes with direct debits, move all of these monthly payments to your credit card: phone bill, monthly gym membership, health insurance, electricity bills etc. Make sure you are converting these scheduled payments into points that wouldn’t be earned if they were being deducted from your debit card.
Tip: Plan for spending large amounts on your card but always be certain you can pay it off each month or in good time.
Spending with partner companies:
Airline frequent flyer schemes make money through partner business signing up to the program (and paying a hefty fee to do so). These partner businesses offer points in return for your business. Before booking any of the below, check with your frequent flyer program to see which companies are offering points and then if suitable, book with them to reap the rewards:
- Hotels: International hotels such as The Marriott Hotels and Hilton Hotels, even some boutique hotels are often signed up to airline schemes.
- Petrol stations: Get points everyday for filling up your car.
- Grocery stores: Major grocery stores often link their own reward schemes with an airline reward scheme to make shopping their more attractive then their competitors. You can earn points or spend your points here.
- Telecommunications: Move your mobile phone, landline and home internet to a company that offer points.
- Restaurants: Jump onto your points scheme app and see what local restaurants are offering points or promotions in your area.
- Car rental: Like hotels, many of the international car rental companies are signed up to points schemes to attract your business.
- Wine: order wine online and get points.
- Insurance: Many types of insurance including travel, car, health, and home insurance are signed up.
- Currency exchange: Travelex and other main currency exchanges in the airports offer points to change your holiday money with them. Only do this as a last resort though as the airport outlets tend to offer unfavourable exchange rates in return for convenience. Better off using the frequent flyer travel money card mentioned below.
- Holidays: There are often a selection of major travel agents, cruises or package ski holidays to book your next holiday with.
- Other: From printing services, to cinemas, to servicing your car. Check with your points provider what’s on offer for that month as they often change and are adding new ones all the time.
Tip: Get double the points by paying for any of the above using your points credit card.
Many airline reward schemes have a cash card for spending foreign currencies abroad. These cash cards are often free, charging the same % conversion fee as using your debit card abroad. A good one is the Travelex pre-paid travel card. The difference is you can lock in the currency conversion rate the day you load your card with cash, whereas when you use your debit card, your transaction is converted at the exchange rate on the day you use it. In addition to locking in an exchange rate, you also earn points for every dollar you spend using it (it works as a debit card that you need to pre-load with cash). So before going on holiday, sign up to one of these, put your spending money on it and use it for all your holiday spending.
Tip: Use your pre-loaded frequent flyer travel card like the Travelex card as a way to budget for your holiday spending. You will also save on ATM fees by not withdrawing foreign currency overseas.
An obvious one but so important. Make sure you provide your frequent flyer membership number when booking flights. Confirm it has been applied to your booking at check-in also. You earn points for the air miles that you fly so do not miss out on receiving these points when you travel. Don’t forget domestic flights!
Tip: make a note of your airline membership number in your phone so it is always to hand. Although you can claim points for past flights after the date of travel, it is often a hassle involving paperwork. Be organised and make sure you provide your membership numbers at the time of booking.
It is easy to collect enough airline points to travel the world for free or get an upgrade to make that holiday all the more sweeter. Just by being organised you really can accrue enough points to realise your travel dreams. I stress, you need to be ORGANISED! It is possible to get yourself into a bit of a mess with multiple bills if you don’t stay across all your finances. Although collecting points can become consuming, don’t let yourself get so carried away that you overwhelm yourself. Pay attention to the detail, stay on top of bills, don’t spend more than you earn and read the small print and you should be fine. See you on the plane or in the lounge :-)
Here are a few links to airline points and loyalty schemes:
Tip: The membership fee is often waived when signing up through a partner program like a credit card or hotel.
Thanks for reading :-) If you have any further tips or advice, please leave a comment below!